A Little Soused on the Prairie

Six decades after Prohibition failed, a Colorado town known for living it up considers going dry

A.J. Hayes says she likes the pace of life in Grover, an isolated outpost closer to Wyoming than it is to Greeley. "What's not to like?" she asks. "You've got peace and quiet. And dust--lots of dust."

Hayes, however, is none too happy about the town's reaction to her request to turn Trudy's, where today's lunch special is homemade spaghetti, into a sophisticated "supper-club-type deal." The idea was that customers could knock back a few cocktails before sampling evening entrees such as the Yankee pot roast. It didn't get far.

First the town board shot down Ralph and A.J.'s son Rick's request to sell package liquor out of the cafe, which sits on a dirt road next to an abandoned railroad right-of-way. Then, after A.J. herself submitted a request to sell booze by the drink, local homemaker Wilma Kidd and several others circulated a petition to put a measure on the ballot prohibiting the sale of anything stronger than 3.2 beer. (That watered-down substance can't be banned outright because under federal law, it's not considered an intoxicating beverage, says a state liquor official.) The abstainers got eighteen signatures, and that was enough. "They basically denied me my right to due process," complains Hayes.

Should the ballot measure pass this coming Tuesday, Hayes's latest liquor application would instantly be rendered moot. And Grover would make history--of a sort. It would become only the second dry town in the state and the first to have actually voted in the distinction since 1954, when the citizens of Milliken, spooked by a Saturday-night stabbing at the local ballroom, voted to shut off the tap. It's a distinction Mayor Duggan would rather avoid.

"When they first applied for the license, people were coming out of the woodwork against it, and 90 percent of them were older people," he says, adding that the opening of the Prairie Village retirement home in the 1980s seems to have saddled Grover with a more conservative attitude toward alcohol. "People had concerns of being shot by drunks, being run over."

The mayor, who says he enjoys going out for a beer and a game of pool, describes himself as an outcast these days at town board meetings. "I don't live in fear and bow down to other people just because something might happen because somebody's being an idiot," he says. "I refuse to live that way."

But wets like Duggan face an uphill battle, even from neighbors who might be expected to have a certain fondness for distilled spirits. Over at the Prairie Village home on Laramie Street, for instance, lives Paul Vey, who for sixteen years in the 1960s and '70s kept a steady stream of 3.2 beer flowing at the P&E Tavern on Main Street. Now eighty years old, Vey doesn't spend much time reminiscing about his long-defunct beer joint.

"I worked seven days a week," he recalls, punctuating the memory with a tired grunt. Not only that, he says, he had to be constantly on his guard for customers trying to smuggle in 6 percent beer from Wyoming. Vey says he's going to vote to take the town dry next month, and he makes no apologies about it.

He gets along with A.J. Hayes, he says, and can stop by Trudy's for a cup of coffee if he feels like it. But he also believes Hayes is "always trying to stir up trouble." The cafe owner may think that "if she has whiskey in there," people will limit their boozing to before-dinner drinks, he says. But he thinks different.

"You know how that is," says Vey, knowingly. "If you get someone selling whiskey and they get people to come into town, they'll take over. And it's gonna be rough."

Dry towns are a relatively rare phenomenon in the mountain West, where save for the radar blip of Prohibition, the booze has tended to flow freely. But they're nothing new in northern Colorado.

The Weld County seat of Greeley was founded as a liquor-free "colony" by New York newspaper publisher Horace Greeley and his colleague Nathan C. Meeker in 1870. One of the guiding "commandments" of the utopian social experiment was, "Thou shalt not sell liquid damnation within the lines of Union Colony." Of course, what went on outside the lines was another matter, and a string of watering holes quickly sprouted in the southern suburbs, leading to the popular observation that Greeley was surrounded by (the town of) Eaton on one side and Drinkin' on the other.

Greeley stayed dry for 99 years, until in 1969 voters goaded on by the Help Greeley Grow Committee decided to give damnation a try. The election dashed the Keep Greeley Great Committee's hopes of completing a full century of clean living, but it helped Greeley keep pace with Fort Collins and Longmont, which had ended their own lengthy dry spells two years earlier.

Even the college enclave of Boulder swore off alcohol until 1967, when the haze of marijuana smoke hovering over the University of Colorado campus must have made the blue laws of 1907 seem particularly ludicrous. Little Milliken held out until 1984, by which time voters were thirsty enough to have forgotten the misunderstanding down at the ballroom.

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